Russia protects Israel from UNESCO condemnations

Vote on resolutions denouncing activities in Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and the West Bank delayed after Moscow intervenes

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, with Mughrabi Ascent bridge in foreground (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem's Old City, with Mughrabi Ascent bridge in foreground (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Russia’s envoy to the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) intervened on Wednesday to defer voting on a series of condemnations of Israel.

UNESCO was due to vote on five resolutions condemning Israel proposed by Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Syria, Haaretz reported on Thursday.

The campaign, led by Jordan, claimed Israel is trying to change the character of Jerusalem and is engaging in archaeological digs without first coordinating with Jordan. The Jordanians also protested permitting Jewish worshipers to pray on the Temple Mount.

UNESCO considers the entire Old City of Jerusalem and its surrounding walls as a world heritage site.

The Palestinian Authority was reportedly pushing for resolutions criticizing Israel for the state of education in Gaza and for Israeli activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Syrians were seeking a similar condemnation for Israel’s treatment of Druse residents of the Golan Heights.

The votes were set to take place at the organization’s meeting in Paris, but Russia’s envoy presented an alternative plan stipulating that the resolutions be delayed for six months during which negotiations would be held with Israel to send a UN fact-finding team to Jerusalem. According to the proposal, Israel would not be required to agree to host the team.

In the lead up to the meeting, Israel’s ambassador to UNESCO Nimrod Barkan met with representatives of European countries to try to block the resolutions. However, the Russian initiative, that caught the Jordanian, Palestinian and Syrian representatives by surprise, passed with 28 votes in favor and 23 against.

France was the single European country to oppose the Russian compromise.

Tensions between Israel and Jordan have been strained for two years over renovations to the Mughrabi bridge that leads from the Western Wall plaza to the Temple Mount. Israel constructed the bridge in 2007 to better facilitate access for worshipers to the Temple Mount. However, Jordanian opposition to the structure brought international criticism of Israel and sparked off violent rioting in Jerusalem. Recent negotiations between Israel and Jordan over repairs to the wooden bridge failed to reach an agreement.

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